Archive for the ‘mystery’ Category

Roman Games-Bruce MacBain

In Book Reviews, historical fiction, mystery on November 22, 2010 at 12:18 am

Detective Thriller In The Reign Of Domitian

One of the emperor’s main snitches is dead–murdered–and Domitian wants to know who to kill for the crime.  While he may choose many men of the Senate who had served with Verpa to investigate the crime, he chooses Pliny The Younger to conduct the investigation, despite the fact that he’s not a trained crime investigator but a vice prefect.  Pliny is a man who has spent his adult life dealing with the law, but he’s more of a probate lawyer than any policeman.  But he’s got a lot of people to suspect: Verpa was disliked by many, including his concubine, fellow senators, his slaves, and even his son, who like all Roman males from good families stood to inherit a fortune when his father died.

Roman Games, by Bruce MacBain, is an interesting story about life in Roman times.  His descriptions make the reader feel like they can imagine being in Rome during the rule of Domitian.  In addition, the story is full of well-written characters.  Pliny transforms from a bookish man of the law to a man bent on finding the murderer and exposing the reasons for the crime.  What he finds in his investigation is not only the motives for Verpa’s murder but a conspiracy that stretches all the way to Domitian himself and involves senators, those closest to the emperor, and even the Vestal Virgins. Rome will forever change because of it.

MacBain weaves a tale that stretches from the lowly slaves who tend to every Roman need through the Senate to the seat of power in the Roman empire itself.  A murder mystery/detective thriller at its heart, Roman Games has the added layer of life in Rome, which makes it unique and quite interesting.

Roman Games was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, through NetGalley.


The Spurned Viscountess-Shelley Munro

In Book Reviews, mystery, romance novels on October 8, 2010 at 12:23 am

Dark and Romantic Story

The Spurned Viscountess by Shelley Munro is a romance story set in England with strong Gothic undertones.  In addition, the story includes a mystery that runs parallel to the romance. Rosalind, the heroine, is sent to marry Lucien, Lord Hastings, but upon meeting him sees her future as loveless and cold.  Lucien doesn’t want to marry her, who he silently calls his English mouse.  He is still in love with his wife, who died along with his unborn child in a murderous attack and wants to find their killer, not marry some woman he’s never met.  In addition, he doesn’t remember anything about his life in England because of the attack, which scarred him both inside and outside.  But Rosalind is stronger than most people give her credit for, and she resolves to marry him and hopes that he will some day at least care enough about her to give her children.

Lucien slowly begins to get used to his English mouse, and it doesn’t take long for him to see that she is made of sturdier stuff than he first thought.  Someone is trying to harm her, and each time, Rosalind shows her strength and courage, even as household members are dying around her.  Lucien finally begins to see that his wife is someone he cares about, just in time for both of them to be in real danger.  Their love is proven through this danger, and when they are safe again, both look forward to the pitter patter of little feet.

The Spurned Viscountess is a sweet story but a well written story.  Munro describes the setting on the coast of England in detail, making the reader feel they are there with Rosalind as she walks near the water or high above on the cliffs.  Lucien is a romantic hero with a past who the reader grows to like and wants to see get a second chance at love.  Rosalind is a strong female character, and Munro makes her character full and interesting.

The romance is sweet when it finally occurs, but the mystery is something out of any Gothic novel.  There is a large, eerie castle; secret passages; a dangerous villain; and strange goings on in the castle.  All of this adds up to a delightful read.  If you like the idea of the dark, brooding romantic hero with a past, a la Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights but in a far less gloomy story, then try Shelley Munro’s book.  This Broad found it simply enjoyable.

The Spurned Viscountess was provided for review by the publisher, Carina Press, through NetGalley.

Marriage, Mystery, and Murder, Oh My!

In The Spurned Viscountess, Shelley Munro introduces us to Rosalind, a young English woman with a rare gift.  She sees the memories and intentions of those she touches, and is quite convinced this gift is in actuality a curse.  Others feel uncomfortable around her, and Rosalind is on the verge of becoming a spinster.  Furthering her troubles are rumors that she is a witch, so her family sends her to St. Clare Castle for an arranged marriage with the heir of the estate, Viscount George St. Clare.  The Viscount, known as Lucien, suffers from amnesia, and has returned to his English family unconvinced that he is, in fact, the missing George St. Clare.  Badly scarred in an attack years earlier and still mourning the murder of his first wife, Lucien marries Rosalind begrudgingly with no intention of husbanding her proper, but strange occurrences in and around Castle St. Clare compel the two to come together as each of their lives is endangered.

Desperately searching for the mysterious and elusive smuggler known only as Hawk, Lucien is determined to avenge his first wife’s murder, but he discovers that investigating that crime may put his new wife in mortal danger.  As love grows between the two, they seek to rediscover Lucien’s past and catch a killer before it is too late.

Shelley Munro’s story is excellent.  What it lacks in depth and detail it makes up for with interesting characters.  Not lengthy, with only 251 pages, The Spurned Viscountess is an easy, enjoyable read.  Rosalind is a typical heroine with more bravado than brains at times, and Lucien is written nicely as the reluctant lover with a mysterious past.  While neither character is outstanding, they do work well in the story together.  What makes Munro’s tale stand out, is the mixture of romance, mystery, and murder.  She also had great supporting characters in the story, which actually made the mystery….ahem, mysterious.

Recommendation:  ****_

Anyone looking for an easy page-turner will enjoy this story.  The Spurned Viscountess was provided to me free of charge through Net Galley from Carina Press Publishing.  The opinions in my review are solely my own.


Dark Places-Gillian Flynn

In Book Reviews, fiction, mystery on August 9, 2010 at 12:30 am

Living Dead

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn is the story of a young woman, Libby Day, a survivor of a murder spree that killed her mother and two sisters when she was seven years old.  Her brother is serving a life sentence for the murder, and Libby is an psychological mess.  She is contacted by a group called The Kill Club, which is interested in meeting her because its members believe her brother, Ben, is innocent of the murders.  Libby meets them, and even though she believes her brother is guilty, she agrees to speak to people involved in the case because she needs the money the club will pay her.  The story of Dark Places is what she finds out by dredging up the past 25 years later.

The reader learns about a family that suffered through hard times and a 15 year old boy who was lost, but not only because he listened to music that frightened his mother or died his hair black or was a loner at school.  Ben Day was lost because his whole life had been one of lack:  he lacked a father figure;  he lacked nice things;  he lacked the ability to tell his girlfriend no because he so desperately didn’t want to be alone.  The story is as much about Ben as it is about Libby.  Both have spent time in the dark places in their minds.

The story is a well crafted one.  It includes many twists and turns, and the ending is a surprise, like an O. Henry story.  Flynn moves back and forth from the past to the present devoting chapters to Libby’s viewpoint of the present and the past in those days right before the murders, Ben’s viewpoint of the present and the days leading up to the murders and then the moments of the murders, and her mother Patty’s viewpoint of the days before the murders and that fateful night.

Flynn is best when she’s writing as Libby in the present.  Her characterization of her is superior to all the other characters; Libby’s voice is the most convincing of all the viewpoints.  Flynn is successful in showing the pain Libby still feels, 25 years after the loss of her mother and two sisters.  Libby is a shell of a person:  she has no job, no friends, no life.  She’s as much a dead person as they are after the murders. She believes her brother is guilty, not because she knows it to be fact, but because she’s never been able to think about it after she testified against him. She is cynical.  It’s all she has.  Flynn’s writing brings the sadness and hollowness of Libby right off the pages.

Ben’s parts of the book show a weak person.  He is a lacking character, and even though he has admirers who see him as a man punished unfairly, the reader quickly understands that even if he’s innocent of the murders, as his admirers and the Kill Club believe, his weaknesses then and now have caused his imprisonment. Flynn does a good job showing the smallness of this man, who has strangely had it easier than Libby because even though he’s in jail, he knows the truth.

Flynn also is successful in making the villains of the story despicable.  She crafts their characters into finely tuned creatures easy to hate.  Ben’s girlfriend and the father of the Day family are portrayed as vile, deserving of no pity from Libby.  That she is unable to hate them by the end of the story gives the glimmer of hope that she has begun to heal the wounds that have made her life a mess.

Dark Places is quite dark at times, but the book is worth the time to read it.  The characterizations are well written, and the plot is interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention to the end. By the end of the story, Libby and her brother are less broken, less hollow.  But each has lost 25 years of life because of one fateful night all those years ago.